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January 8th, 2010 1:16 am
Schwarzenegger Misses Another Reform Opportunity

You are forgiven if you didn’t hear or read California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “state of the state” address recently. The Governator’s halting speaking style and usual lack of substance typically attracts neither attention nor interest. But one section of his speech bears scrutiny. Buried towards the end he compared the change in state spending on prisons and higher education. Thirty years ago 10 percent of the budget went to colleges and universities while 3 percent went to prisons. Today, “almost 11 percent goes to prisons and only 7.5 percent goes to higher education.”

Okay, so Californians passed the three strikes law and reinstated the death penalty.  Now they are paying the costs of locking up serious criminals for the rest of their lives. But Schwarzenegger didn’t advocate for eliminating the laws that drive up incarceration rates. Instead, he did what almost every California politician does: call for a constitutional amendment. In this case, one that would require the state to spend more money on higher education than prisons. Presumably, this Austrian “economist” would be satisfied so long as higher education gets one dollar more than the prison system.

And yet the truly remarkable thing is that he then advocated for privatizing the prison system. Why; because privately run prisons would save “billions a year.” True, but why not apply the same logic to other side of the ledger and privatize state-funded education? If competition is good in the housing of California’s worst residents, why not in the education of its youngest and brightest? Imagine if instead of proposing yet another arbitrary budget constraint the governor had announced a plan to expand the logic of the higher education Cal-Grant program into a statewide K-12 voucher program. Or maybe he could announce a district wide sale of LAUSD to a charter school outfit like KIPP. After all, if the prison guard unions can be sacrificed for the good of the taxpayer, why not the teachers unions too?

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